New Jersey—MILO BEST Center graduate Ella Fajardo is entering a new stage in her athletic journey after officially joining Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey where she and her family currently resides. The 17-year-old cager is among the elite few who have undergone a rigorous selection process to be in the school’s roster for the Division I of the United States’ National Collegiate Athletic Association, marking an unprecedented milestone in her basketball career thus far.
“It’s been a pretty long process,” Fajardo shared, saying that she’s been recruited by various institutions in the United States ever since her freshman year in high school. What stood out for the young Gilas point guard was the good relationship she developed with FDU’s coaching staff, her main deciding factor for choosing the university. Although it was a collective decision with her parents, Ellen and Allan, Fajardo was given the full authority to decide on her own.
“Wherever I feel I belong, it’s up to me. Fairleigh loved who I was outside of basketball and I have that personality that would fit into the team,” she said. “They’re really looking for specific people for Fairleigh’s winning culture, primarily a guard who has leadership skills, and that was definitely what they saw in me while recruiting me and watching my games live.”
Yale University, The University of Chicago and New York University were among the institutions that tried to recruit Fajardo for their basketball roster. On settling with FDU, Fajardo expressed her gratefulness to be welcomed by her new alma mater.
“I think it’s such a blessing especially during these times of the pandemic because this is hugely a time for recruited athletes to go to camps so that the coaches can see you and be hands on with you, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that. The fact that I was able to grow a relationship with FDU during quarantine was the main deciding factor for me,” she said.
With another feather on her cap, Fajardo credits all her achievements today to her MILO BEST Center days, back in 2011 when she was nine years old. Through the support of the dad Allan, who was also a product of MILO BEST Center in his younger days, and mom Ellen, Fajardo found her calling in the court.
“The MILO BEST Center was foundational in my basketball career,” she revealed. “The difference with the BEST Center and the other camps here in the States is their approach to teaching. They taught me how to dribble, how to play offense and defense, but they really taught me to how to be disciplined while pushing you to the best of your abilities. Everything I know today came from them.”
Being trained with the scientific methods the MILO BEST Center is known for, the program was Fajardo’s jump-off point to excel in the field of basketball, where she later became one of the most recognizable players in the youth athletic circuit during her middle and high school at Gill St. Bernard’s, and as a member of the New Jersey Sparks team, which competes in the exclusive Girls Elite Youth Basketball League (GEYBL).
But along that illustrious path, the young hoopster admitted that the journey was tough. Fajardo revealed that she was often overlooked for her stature, being told that she wasn’t tall at five foot four or her build was not athletic enough. But with perseverance, she proved critics that size does not always matter. Armed with the learnings she gained from the MILO BEST Center, and the exposure she earned from various tournaments, Fajardo showed that discipline, confidence and hard work will bring one to greater heights and become a full-fledged champion.
“What I learned from competing was it really taught me to play with my heart and show them that I can do it. That is something that Filipinos really do have. Even playing for the Philippine National Team, I’ve never felt that way playing for my country and I hope other female athletes get to experience that.”
Last year, Fajardo, alongside fellow lady cagers Kristine Cayabyab, Camille Clarin and Angelica Marie Surada, showed a stunning performance in capturing the bronze medal in the FIBA 3×3 U18 Cup in Malaysia, having scored 14-11 against a formidable competitor China. Up to this day, Fajardo attributes this success to the MILO BEST Center, a legacy that the late basketball great Coach Nicanor Jorge had left for the country’s youth athletes.
“Coach Nic has positively impacted my life and even my Dad’s life. He actually saw the potential in me when I didn’t even know what kind of opportunities basketball holds for me,” she shared. “I just want to continue that legacy someway, somehow. And I know that part of me wants to help other children the way that he did because he definitely inspired me and I want to inspire other people.”
Today, while quarantine restrictions have been slightly relaxed in New Jersey, outdoor activities are still limited for the Fajardos. But that does not stop Fajardo and her younger siblings Ava (12 years old) and Andrea (8 years old), fellow basketball cagers who have also gone through the MILO BEST Center program, to get up and do their basketball routines in their garage that their dad Allan fixed up for them.
“I think it’s important right now to stay active and stay healthy, especially now that everyone’s inclined to do their activities at home,” she said. “Me and my Dad search online for drills and I do it with my sisters. I tend to be competitive because I have to show the best way to do the drills for them.”
Just like the Fajardo sisters, Filipino families are depending on technology to source for engaging activities that they can follow. MILO’s online program called the MILO Home Court offers an expansive library of sports exercises and drills to help parents encourage their kids to stay safe, stay active and stay healthy. Available on MILO’s Facebook, Instagram and YouTube platforms, parents and kids can enjoy a safe yet fun fitness bonding through the MILO Sports Clinics Online, MILO Champion Live and Minute. To see the videos, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ2Wzb2qXmrCgIYnPq6VfvQ“To be able to support kids to remain active, healthy and strong, it is important for parents to remember that champion journeys continue even when at home,” said Lester P. Castillo, Assistant Vice President, Nestlé Philippines-MILO. “The key is to provide them with easy and engaging content developed by our partner sports experts so that kids are inspired to get moving and discover their love for sports. Just like Ella’s journey, a shining example that great things start from small beginnings, kids can kickstart their champion dreams with the MILO Home Court. They can finally enjoy their drills with their favorite MILO Champions including Ella.”
Looking into the foreseeable future, Fajardo plans to return to the country and give back in whatever capacity she can do. Fajardo may be rounding up the hoops in NCAA when she finally starts her academic year in FDU in 2021, but her heart remains in the motherland where she feels she belongs.
“I will definitely take advantage of the exposure I will be getting here in the United States. I am definitely not done yet with my basketball career in the Philippines. I have to pay my respects to them because they have supported me so much. Whenever I am called, I’ll be ready to represent the flag.”